Manafort defense asks Gates about additional extramarital affairs

Paul Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing on Wednesday asked whether longtime Manafort deputy Rick Gates had four extramarital affairs — and not just one abroad 10 years ago — implying that Gates might have lied to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and could put his plea deal in jeopardy.

But Gates did not answer Downing’s question after the prosecution objected to the relevance of the inquiry.

Gates’ testimony concluded Wednesday following three days worth of questioning, during which he detailed how he and Manafort had 15 undisclosed foreign bank accounts and falsifying bank accounts. He also admitted to stealing money from Manafort and having one extramarital affair.

Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, is charged with 18 counts of tax and banking crimes, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Gates was initially charged with Manafort but pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in February.

After Downing asked Gates Wednesday whether he had multiple affairs, Judge T.S. Ellis had a private conversation, out of earshot of the jury. Downing had said he wanted to ask the question because it spoke to whether Gates had lied to Mueller’s office, and whether Gates’ plea agreement would still be valid.

But Downing wasn’t able to re-ask Gates the question about four extramarital affairs. Instead, he asked Gates more broadly: “Does your secret life span over many years?”

Gates responded yes. “I made many mistakes over many years,” he said.

Gates then left the witness stand.

Downing’s questions to Gates about affairs and embezzlement cut to the heart of the defense’s case trying to undermine Gates’ credibility with jury and pin the blame on Gates for Manafort’s alleged crimes.

On Tuesday, Downing asked how the jury could believe Gates “after all the lies you told and fraud you committed.”

“I’m here to tell the truth. … Mr. Manafort had the same path. I’m here,” Gates responded. “I have taken responsibility. … I am trying to change.”

The exchange between Gates and Manafort’s team could be a key moment in the first case that Mueller’s team has taken to trial as part of its broad investigation into Russian election meddling.

Gates served as a deputy for Manafort’s political consulting business, and then as his deputy on the Trump campaign in 2016. While President Donald Trump has not played a significant role in the trial, Gates testified on Tuesday that after the election, Manafort recommended a banker who loaned him money to be Trump’s Army secretary.

Prosecutor Greg Andres asked Gates Thursday whether Mueller’s team had told him how to answer questions.

“The only answer I was told was to tell the truth,” Gates replied.

Prosecutors called Morgan Magionos, an FBI forensic accountant, as the next witness to testify. They expect to wrap up their case this week.